It’s easy to understand why the modern workforce doesn’t get excited about leadership development initiatives. Sure, they are the end consumer and the people organizations want to upskill, but rarely are training initiatives truly about them. Most initiatives go something like the following.
A business unit president tells human resources or training and development the team is struggling with leadership skills. Training professionals build programs and/or source the best content partner based on modality and cost. Project champions are assigned and business leaders (maybe even the CEO) get on board and deployment begins. Two months later, the team realizes the results aren’t what anyone expected. There were some positive takeaways in the form of smile sheets or encouraging feedback, but the skill gap still exists.
It was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. Yet, there your organization is, months later, trying to defy the definition of insanity, by trying to close skill gaps the same way in your next leadership training program.
Don’t fear, you aren’t alone. We experienced the same challenge in our business when we launched a leadership training course. Riding the wave of elective online learning courses, six thousand professionals eagerly signed up to take the online microlearning course. Everyone on the team was beaming with excitement, eagerly ready to document engagement. Then reality hit, and our hopes came crashing down. Less than 5 percent of professionals who enrolled completed the exercises and finished the course. Regardless of whether the course was elective or directive, the numbers weren’t even close to acceptable for any organization. With the wind knocked out of our sails, we realized we had to find a better way.
An Alternative Approach
A common practice for officers in the Marines is to put together what they refer to as an “Iron Council.” This group consists of five or six direct reports and peers of an officer. A few times a year the Iron Council meets with their officer in a group setting to provide feedback about the leader’s performance over the past few months. The feedback isn’t meant to make the officer feel bad about their performance or to promote a forum to air petty grievances.
Something amazing happens after these Iron Council meetings. While feedback can be tough to hear for most, officers find themselves on a mission. The officer takes the opportunity to increase self-awareness of their leadership performance and identify specific things they can do to improve moving forward. When provided with further formal leadership development opportunities, the officers are engaged and take ownership of their education.
The practice of the Iron Council got us thinking. Why don’t organizations do the same for their people to close leadership skill gaps?
We had to test out the idea. Instead of launching another generic leadership development program, we started with the core of the skill (what was most important). Then we deployed a Welder Leader 360° assessment. The assessment was geared toward the manager’s performance of the core skill and completed by both the manager and their direct reports. We compiled the results into a personalized leader profile report and delivered it to the manager in either an instructor-led session or a virtual 30-minute coaching call.
The report exposed a manager’s strengths and weaknesses in 16 core leadership competencies as rated by their people. We didn’t berate them or focus on the negatives. All we did was put a mirror in front of them so they could objectively see how they were doing, just like the Iron Council in the Marines.
After managers received their customized report, they were prescribed one microlearning module a month to address their weakest competencies.
What happened next was interesting. The engagement and completion percentages of learning content shot through the roof. In some organizations we saw monthly completion percentages jump to the 95 to 98 percent range. Regardless of whether your organization prefers directive over elective training, instructor-led training over virtual, two-hour modules over microlearning, or PowerPoint over video, Figure 1 illustrates an approach to instantly improving your employees’ skills.
Integrating Self-Awareness into Training
Using self-awareness as part of your leadership training initiatives will not only increase engagement, but also increase the likelihood training will be applied and skills will improve.
Here are some tips for creating an effective training initiative using self-awareness:
- Pinpoint the core of the skill
Identifying the core of the skill will greatly enhance your ability to define the most important aspects of the initiatives.
As an example, if the CEO says, “We need to improve our managers leadership skills,” don’t start building or evaluating every program on the planet around leadership. Instead, determine the core skill needing focus. In the case of leadership, the core skill is someone whose actions inspire, empower, and serve others to produce and improved state over an extended period of time.
The point is to identify the core of the skill before you hold up a mirror to any learner. Without this step, your initiative could be exposed to massive failure.
- Empower self-awareness
Self-assessments with thought-provoking questions are a great place to start. If it’s applicable to the skill, 360° assessments are a powerful way to get direct reports, peers, or even bosses to provide feedback to the learner. Assessments are just the first part of improving self-awareness. Revealing the results is where the real shift begins to happen. If you can make delivering results an empowering experience, your learners will open themselves up to receiving it. These experiences could come in the form of one-on-one coaching, group discussions, or an instructor-led or virtual session.
- Provide content to close the gap.
Take into account individuals will have varying degrees of proficiency in the skill assessed. A combined directive and elective content approach is proving to be the most effective for organizations. If you’re thinking of implementing a similar initiative, you can first put all front-line managers through a one-day program. Next, push one assigned microlearning module a month. Then, provide access to an on-demand library of content they can access to improve in specific areas of need or when particular needs arise. Learners are able to feel empowered to close their skill gaps while everyone has the same opportunity to learn what the organization considers “good looks like” in terms of performance or proficiency.
Why is This Approach so Important Today?
The answer to closing skill gaps lies in the art of appealing to the modern learner’s self-awareness, combined with their intrinsic desire to improve. While some organizational leaders might think, “My people will improve because we pay them, so they must do it.” The truth is, no one truly closes a skill gap, until they want to close it.
At no time in the history of the world has there been a more “me-centric” workforce. The modern learner cares about themselves, but they also value their professional development as much, if not more, than any time in history. Instead of just throwing more content on your LMS, buying another license to some online learning platform, or spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a learning program, consider first if you’re appealing enough to their desire to improve. What’s going to help them be open and willing to improve their skill? The answer lies in increasing their self-awareness.
A version of this article originally appeared in Training Industry Magazine.
Modernize The Leadership Development Program in Your Company: Learn more to see if the Welder Leader Program is a fit for your organization here.
About the Authors John Eades is one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace. He is the CEO of LearnLoft, host of the Follow My Lead Podcast, and author of the upcoming book, “The Welder Leader.” Christina Wilder is VP of learning strategies and content development at LearnLoft. She brings over 12 years of instructional design expertise to create training programs that move the needle.